The Tony Award-winning revival production of ‘Once On This Island’ is about to hit the road on a national tour. The much-beloved musical, which was performed in-the-round during its time at the Circle In The Square Theatre on Broadway, will be presented in a revamped proscenium-style version for tour houses around the US.
The latest Broadway revival of ‘Once On This Island’ — a musical by the Tony and Grammy award-winning lyricist/composer team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty — secured its choreographer, Tony nominee Camille A. Brown, nominations for the Chita Rivera, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards during the 2017-18 season.
The touring production, which begins preview performances at The Carson Center in Paducah, Kentucky on October 12, stars ‘American Idol’ season one finalist Tamyra Gray, Tony nominee Phillip Boykin, Courtnee Carter, and more. The musical officially opens at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville on October 15th.
According to its official press release, the musical tells “the sweeping, universal tale of Ti Moune, a fearless peasant girl in search of her place in the world, and ready to risk it all for love. Guided by the mighty island gods, Ti Moune sets out on a remarkable journey to reunite with the man who has captured her heart.”
The cast and creative team of ‘Once On This Island’. Photo credit: Dance Network.
Brown, whose Tony-nominated work was seen on Broadway this past season with ‘Choir Boy’, is certainly in high demand at the moment. While simultaneously creating the dances for ‘Porgy And Bess’ at the New York Metropolitan Opera, Brown has also managed to not only re-shape and re-stage her choreography for the touring production of ‘Once On This Island' but she’s also designed the movement sequences for the new play ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf’ at the Public Theatre.
Courtnee Carter, who plays Ti Moune in the production, talked to Dance Network about what it's been like working with Brown — a choreographer often revered for her ability to use deeply rooted cultural movement in her theatrical storytelling.
“She’s really specific about telling my story as a black woman,” Carter said. “Saying to not to be afraid of using your body in your way — like really getting in touch with your ancestors. And, I think, as a black artist, I don’t really have that opportunity all the time, so it’s so, so — such a blessing to work with her.”
(From left to right) Danielle Lee Greaves, Tamyra Gray, Jahmaul Bakare, Cassondra James, Courtnee Carter, Tyler Hardwick, Phillip Boykin, and Kyle Ramar Freeman. Photo credit: Dance Network.
Rickey Tripp, the musical's associate choreographer — and Brown's "right-hand man" for nearly a decade — explained where he and Brown found inspiration for much of the musical's cultural-based movement.
“It was important for us to raise Afro-Cuban, Afro-Haitian, and West African dance to the forefront,” Tripp said. “[For example, with] the ‘Ball’, we took that as an opportunity to really heighten the idea of oppression — to really understand what it means to be oppressed, and what it does to the black body. We decided to heighten on that, and to think about what it means for black people and how it affects us — in spite of being oppressed, and how we can celebrate that, actually.”
Brown, who is set to choreograph City Center Encores' reimagined take on ‘Thoroughly Modern Mille,’ (which will star ‘Mean Girls’ actress Ashley Park in the title role), is also slated to create the dances for the 2021 Broadway aimed ‘Soul Train’ musical — all with longtime associate Tripp at her side.
Tamyra Gray, an actress known for her work both on stage and in film and television, (most notably, for placing fourth on the first season of ‘American Idol’), stars as Papa Ge in the touring production.
“I think it’s an important time to tell this story,” Gray said. “I think this story deals with some important issues of the time — from colorism within culture, to racism, to divisiveness.”
“Giving communities across the country a glimpse into how we can create a new paradigm — a new story — how we can come together around a fire barrel or around a fire pit and talk and share stories that our ancestors told from beyond is necessary because we’re so caught up in the social media age that we begun to lose our sense of connection, and this show shows how to bring that back.”
The company of the ‘Once On This Island’ tour features Courtnee Carter as Ti Moune, Tamyra Gray as Papa Ge, Cassondra James as Erzulie, Phillip Boykin as Tonton Julian, Tyler Hardwick as Daniel Beauxhomme, Jahmaul Bakare as Agwe, Kyle Ramar Freeman as Asaka, as well as Briana Brooks, George L. Brown, MiMi Crossland, Mariama Diop, Danielle Lee Greaves, Mckynleigh Alden Abraham, Michael Ivan Carrier, Jay Donnell, Phyre Hawkins, Savy Jackson, Alex Joseph Grayson, Tatiana Lofton, and Robert Zelaya.
For more info, tickets and dates of the tour, visit OnceOnThisIsland.com.
*Cover photo credit: Joan Marcus.